TV Viewers Thanking NBC/Golf Channel for ‘Playing Through’ Commercials

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Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Sports viewers have liked NBC/GOLF Channel’s split-screen Playing Through advertising format since its launch at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Without missing any of the action, golf fans can continue to watch their favorite players while TV commercials air in a second on-screen box.

With GOLF Channel and parent NBC Sports wrapping up coverage of the 2019 FedExCup Playoffs at the Tour Championship from Aug 22-25, the network has shared some interesting data about the ad format with Front Office Sports that could impact how it televises big events like the NFL and Olympics in the future.

GOLF Channel’s research shows Playing Through commercials not only draw higher TV viewership but make consumers pay closer attention to the ads. The result? An enhanced, more effective, marketing approach that’s appreciated by both viewers and sponsors alike.

This year, NBC/GOLF Channel used Playing Through for its weekly coverage of the PGA Tour for the first time, not just for major championships like the British Open. 

The results surprised Tom Knapp, GOLF Channel’s executive vice president of partnerships and programming.

Consider the recent 2019 British Open won by Shane Lowry. 

NBC/GOLF Channel’s Playing Through commercial breaks drew 11% higher household TV ratings than more traditional breaks with no split-screen – and retained 4% more viewers. 

Thanks to the format, golf fans saw 407 more golf shots from Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland.

Among commercials airing in both formats, Playing Through spots captured 230% more attention than traditional ads. And three times as much attention as conventional ads on TV at the time.

“Look, it’s a positive viewing experience. The psychology of advertising is very important. The frame of mind that you reach a viewer has a lot to do with how they feel about that brand,” Knapp said. “When a viewer is happy with the presentation you’re delivering them, they tend to feel better or positive about the brand associated with that experience. I was hopeful we’d get that kind of reaction. But I didn’t expect it to be as positive as it is. It’s been tremendous.”

NBC/GOLF Channel wouldn’t name specific brands. But they said one British Open beer sponsor generated 181% more message memorability, and 152% greater brand memorability when its ads aired in the Playing Through format. 

And how often do you get consumers thanking you for commercials, asked Knapp?

“Not only are they thanking us, they’re thanking the sponsors. They say, ‘Hey Sponsor X, we appreciate you running your ads in that fashion, I’ll go out and buy your product.’ We actually see this in social media. They’re thanking specific individual advertisers for allowing us to do this.”

Those British Open numbers were not some one-off. The Playing Through format was utilized during 50% of NBC/GOLF Channel’s commercial breaks this year. Year-to-date, these ads are capturing 61% more attention than more traditional ones on the PGA Tour.   

Split-screen ad formats originally grew out of auto racing; another sport where play never stops and there are no natural commercial breaks. NBC/GOLF Channel and other networks have experimented for years.

Knapp admitted top advertisers and ad agencies were not thrilled with the idea at first. You couldn’t blame them. 

Why would they want their million-dollar commercials squeezed into a small box when they’re meant to be watched across a full TV screen? But advertisers and agencies came around once they saw the numbers, according to Knapp.

READ MORE: How The PGA Tour Helped Pro Golfers Improve Their Social Media Presence

The biggest attraction of Playing Through to advertisers is it “helps prevent channel surfing,” said independent media consultant Brad Adgate. 

“I think we will see more of them especially since so many reporting events are watched on big TV screens these days,” Adgate said. “It makes it easy to watch both.”

Consultant Ernest Lupinacci, the former award-winning Nike copywriter turned founder of Ernest Industries, says his marketer clients have become more pragmatic in a 500-channel universe.

“In reality, here are the two options the advertiser actually has: run my commercial full screen and have the viewer ignore it while they look at the phone in their hand. Or run my commercial while the game is still being aired, and have the viewer potentially pay attention to it because they are still looking at their TV.”

READ MORE: British Open Already Has Winner: Undefeated Titleist Pro V1 Golf Ball

The smartest marketers are ordering up new creative with the Playing Through format in mind. During NBC/GOLF Channel’s 2018 British Open coverage, for example, Callaway aired a special split-screen spot with superstar endorser Phil Mickelson directly asking viewers to duck so he can play through.

“Knowing that the viewing audience is typically distracted by the live coverage, we challenged ourselves to find a way to playfully interrupt and engage the viewer,” explained Callaway in a statement. “Who better to capture viewers’ attention than fan-favorite Phil Mickelson and what better position to put him in than escaping trouble?”

Now that NBC has the data to back up it claims about Playing Through’s consumer effectiveness, it can potentially charge higher ad rates next year.

“They will get what they pay for. If the ratings are higher than they were last year, they’ll pay a little bit higher rate,” Knapp said. “But it’s not a premium for Playing Through. They are paying for the audience that we are delivering. And fortunately, we are delivering a bigger audience.”

Looking ahead, Knapp would like to see the day when 100% of NBC/GOLF Channel’s links ads run with the dual Playing Through windows.

“We’re onto something here. If we can air a five-hour golf telecast – and never go away – that’s the goal,” said Knapp. “That is absolutely the goal.”